Remember Together 2019
One of the ambitions of the Heritage team volunteers in their research project into the names recorded on the War Memorial in the Cemetery was to create a whole picture of each individual serviceman, so that they are more than just a sad inscription on a memorial. All of these men had lives before they enlisted – even if some of these lives were very short – they all had families and many left children behind when they died.
All of the Heritage volunteers are really hoping that, as part of this research process we will actually find photographs of the servicemen. Many thousands of service men would have had an ‘official’ photograph taken by a professional photographer either before leaving the UK or once they were in Belgium or France. Proudly wearing their uniform, they would sometimes have the photograph taken with a family member, their wife or girl-friend, a brother also in uniform or a child they were leaving behind.
Newspapers regularly reported on their local men who had enlisted, including a photograph where possible, as a way of encouraging more men to sign up. Sadly, many reports from families announcing the death of a son, father or brother might also include a photograph. These final images would become a treasured possession.
So far we have only been able to locate the photograph of one of our service men.
Stoker 1st Class Peter Mason was born on 13th August 1891. He was one of the 9 children (only five of whom were alive by the 1911 census) of Thomas and Sarah Mason who lived in Stepney and Mile End. Peter was working as a store repairer in the gasworks in the 1911 census and his widowed mother is supporting the household by working as trouser finisher, despite being 62 years of age. Peter’s father also worked in the gas works (in the 1901 census) as a labourer and it is probable that he helped his son obtain his job.
Peter enlisted on the 8th June 1915 in the Royal Navy, Chatham. He served on board six different ships, including the shore base at HMS Pembroke. His last ship was HMS Victorious, one of nine Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleships, which ended her war service as a repair ship for the Grand Fleet. Peter died of pneumonia on 12th November 1918 at the age of 27 years. He left a widow, Emmie, living at 16 Bale Street (a couple of doors down from Number 28 where he had been living with his mother in 1911). The couple had one daughter, Rose Nell, who was born on 6th November 1918. Peter never met his baby daughter. He is buried in Grave Nu 1517 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
It would be wonderful if we could find other pictures of the War Memorial men so please do get in touch if you have any memorabilia you would like to share with the Heritage research volunteers. Our email is email@example.com
The photograph of Peter and his Jack Russell dog is available on www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance/wall/. It was uploaded by Peter’s great grand-daughter.
Our ‘Hidden Histories’ project is all coming along really nicely ! Several new and very enthusiastic volunteers have joined the research team and have been given some basic training to get them started on the all-consuming hobby of ‘soldier researching’. They probably don’t quite realise what they have let themselves in for !
Starting with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site, the volunteers have then been busy accessing the individual servicemen’s service records, pension records, census details, birth/baptism/marriage certificates and other valuable sources available on Ancestry, findmypast etc.
As part of the project, we are also in the process of ordering the death certificates of all 206 servicemen from www.gro.gov.uk. While the basic details of the serviceman’s death can be found on CWGC, the death certificates gives valuable additional information:
- cause of death – which can include details of injuries and their final illness
- the location where the serviceman died – these can include various hospitals and other buildings requisitioned for war use (schools and stately homes)
- the person registering the death was usually a medical personnel but sometimes a family member was present with the serviceman
Many of our casualties did not actually die as a direct result of injuries sustained on the battlefield. Illness, especially tuberculosis and influenza, struck the servicemen, already weakened by the deprivations of the Western Front, very hard.
Our servicemen are buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park because they died ‘at home’ – either locally or elsewhere in the UK and were returned to Mile End for burial. Servicemen who died abroad were all buried in the War Grave Commission cemeteries especially designed for the purpose. Some of our THCP men were shipped home from the Western Front to hospitals in the UK where they sadly later died of their wounds. Some died in accident or in one case in an attack by the IRA after the end of the war.
The volunteers will be researching the hospitals linked to the THCP servicemen – such as the Royal Naval Hospital, an existing pre-war military hospital at Haslar (Gosport) or Nethercroft Hospital, Ramsgate. It would be interesting to find out if any of our local women worked as nurses in these hospitals.
The Hidden Histories project is still looking for extra volunteers – no previous experience needed – to help with our research. All the information will be available on our website and will be published in a booklet later in the year.
Please get in touch if you would like to help research one of the names on the War Memorial. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org We would also really like to hear from anyone who is related to one of the men and maybe has memorabilia to share with our research team.
Please check out the individual servicemen’s pages on the web-site where individual stories of the servicemen will be regularly added and updated.
In the 1911 census 15 Grenade Street, Limehouse was a sub-divided, 2 household home. Living in 5 rooms were head of the household 41 year old James Cappaert, his 41 year old wife Hannah and their 7 children; Hannah 20, James 18, Fred 15, William 12, Ethel 10, Louie 6 and Joseph just 1 year old. James senior was a dustman working for Stepney Borough Council having previously been a carman (a deliveryman driving a horse-drawn cart), daughter Hannah was a packer in a granary, James and Fred were labourers in a ‘custard works’ while William, Ethel and Louie were all at school.
Living in the other room in the house were 21 year old Charles Alfred Cappaert, a packer in a ‘custard works’ and his recently married wife 21 year old Mary. They had no children in 1911 when the census was compiled.
Charles and William were both baptised at St Peter’s Church, Garford Street and both attended Northern Street School (later renamed Cyril Jackson School). Charles was admitted aged 2 on 24th March 1892 while William joined the school at the more advanced age of 4 on August 25th 1902. In 1892 the family was actually living on Northern Street, at Number 40 but by 1902 they had moved to 37 Gill Street.
In 1911 Charles, a packer at a custard works might have worked at C and E Morton’s factory on Morton’s Bonded Sufferance Wharf on the dockside at Limehouse. Morton’s was famous for its preserved jams and jellies but it also produced custard. During WW1 it was one of the principal suppliers of canned food for the Armed Forces. The factory on Cuba Street off the South Dock was a short 15 minute walk from the family’s 1911 home on Grenade Street.
Charles Alfred enlisted on 2.9.1915 as a Gunner in the Royal Horse and Filed Artillery, B Battalion 75th Division. On 4th September 1915 this Division joined with the Guard Division and saw action during the Battle of the Menin Road (20th– 25th September 1917), Poelcapelle (9th October 1917) and the 1st Battle of Passchendaele (12th October 1917). All of these took place near the pivotal town of Ypres, around which so much intensive fighting took place.
Charles died on 27-10-1917 and is buried at the Canada Farm Cemetery, Elverdinge, Belgium. The farmhouse at the site near Ypres was used as a dressing station during the 1917 offensive and most of the 907 burials in the Cemetery are of men who died at the station between June and October 1917.
William Henry, Charles’ younger brother by 8 years, enlisted at the age of 18 in London. He attested on 2-6-1916, joined on the 8th and formally enlisted on 24-11-1916. He joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment as a Private, was transferred to the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on 1-7-1917 and transferred again on 17-7-1917 to the Devonshire Regiment Cyclist Battalion.
The Battalion was based in Exeter and during 1914-16 was stationed along various parts of the east coast of England from Scarborough to Sussex, defending the coastal ports and sea defences. Members of the Battalion helped rescue survivors of the hospital ship ‘Rohilla’ sunk off Scarborough (November 1914) and were present when the German fleet bombarded Hartlepool (December 1914). Men were sent overseas but the Battalion remained stationed in the UK and according to his medal record card William did not see action on the continent.
Following the Armistice and the long awaited end to hostilities along the Western Front, William remained in uniform until he was discharged on 1-1-1918 as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. William had apparently been a long-time sufferer of ‘choroiditis’ which is an eye disease causing inflammation of the retina and results in white dots in the posterior inner part of the eye. The condition had been ‘aggravated by service during the present war’ and his medical records state that he been a bugler for 2 years which had caused vitreous haemorrhages.
William died just over a month after his discharge on 14-2-1919 and he was buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. He is one of the men commemorated on the War Memorial.
Of the two other brothers of an age to have enlisted, James (b. 1893) apparently did not serve in the regular armed service. Fred (b. 1896) did enlist, serving in the Royal Field Artillery and surviving the conflict. His medal card states that he served in France from 28-11-1915.
Remembrance Sunday was bright and suitably autumnal as local residents, politicians, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Scouts, Army Cadets and even two beautifully behaved police horses remembered the men and women who have died in conflicts across the globe since the Great War.
While the focus of the Cemetery Park’s heritage volunteers for the last year has been researching the World War 1 servicemen, the War Memorial also commemorates men and women who died during WW1, including two sailors of the Netherland Royal Navy and two Chinese crewmen. Sadly the Great War was not ‘the war to end all wars’ as many believed at the dawn of the last century.
The Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Remembrance Service is always a family event, and the youngsters were very enthusiastic about helping to attach military caps representing the 205 WW1 men to the railings of the Soanes Centre. Hopefully these will be a gentle reminder of the men’s sacrifice to walkers in the Cemetery Park throughout the month of November. The youngsters also placed the traditional small wooden crosses into the boxes on the Memorial. While researching the WW1 men, using census returns to trace their family background, one recurring theme has been the number of children who were brought up by their widowed mother following their father’s death. Although the Services paid a dependant’s pension, it would have been a difficult time for thousands of families.
After the observation of the 2 minutes silence at the 11th hour and the laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, the ceremony was concluded at the memorial to the civilian war dead of Poplar. During both WW1 and WW2 the East End suffered devastating air raids from Zeppelins, doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe. The bricks used to create the civilian war memorial were collected from the bombed-out homes of countless families bombed out during WW2.
The afternoon was rounded off with the obligatory cup of tea, biscuits and a catch-up chat with other Friends and heritage volunteers.
Two of the 205 WW1 soldiers lost their lives exactly 100 years ago on 11-11-1918. Somehow it seems even more tragic to lose your life on Armistice Day while the rest of Europe was celebrating the end of the conflict.
Alfred William Carr enlisted at Stratford as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. In the 1911 census he is living at 47 Turner’s Road, Burdett Road, Limehouse with his wife Catherine nee Clackett. They had been married at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on 29th January 1911 and in the register Alfred is described as a machinist. On the 1911 census his occupation is given as ‘shoddy grinder’. While this sounds more like a harsh comment on the standard of his work – it was actually a type of Edwardian recycling. Inferior quality (and therefore cheaper) wool was made by shredding wool scraps into fibres and mixing them with a small amount of new wool.
In 1918 Alfred was stationed at Inchmickery Battery on the Forth River as part of the Forth Defence Garrison. He died on 11-11-1918 at Edinburgh Castle Hospital. He left a widow but no children. The details for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record that living with Alfred’s widow at 34 Russia Lane, Bethnal Green, was the widow of Charles William Clackett, who having returned from Montreal Canada in November 1914, died ‘on or since’ 21-3-1918. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, along with 34,785 men of the fighting on the Somme who have no known grave. The sisters-in-law were clearly dealing with their tragic losses together.
Bert Rowe Pickhaver served in the 17th London Regiment and the 69th Royal Defence Corps. He was born in Limehouse and in the 1911 census he is described as a 14 year old who has just left school. He was living at 17 Robeson Street, Turner Road, Mile End with his parents – James, a wood chopper, Eliza a ‘trouser finisher’ and his older sister Eliza Phoebe, who was a ‘tailoring presser’.
Age 21 years, Bert died at the Colchester General Hospital of influenza on 11-11-1918. His widow Harriet, whom he had married at Halstead, Essex in the September quarter of 1918, remarried on 27th September 1919 at Birdbrook Church near Halstead. Her second husband was Albert Edward Whipps who had served since 30th March 1916 in the Suffolk Regiment.
Between the Belgian town of Gheluvelt and Bass Wood, on the west side of a row of ‘pillboxes’, 36 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell during the winter of 1917-18 were interred in a small temporary cemetery. The typical British ‘Tommy’ was fond of re-naming parts of these foreign fields after more familiar places back home, often because the original French or Flemish name was totally unpronounceable to them. The area of the Western Front near Ypres had been renamed by the British as ‘Tower Hamlets’.
After the Armistice the 36 men were exhumed and re-interred in the Hooge Crater Cemetery alongside 2,310 other casualties of the War.
While the conflict was still raging across the battlefields it was simply too dangerous and impractical to do anything beyond retrieve the bodies of the casualties when it was possible and bury them in the most convenient location nearby. Local churchyards were often used. Others were not retrieved as the ever present mud deposited by subsequent shell blasts would have hidden them.
Naturally the military authorities were more than aware of the urgent necessity to deal with the problem of decently burying the casualties. Nothing could be more disheartening or distressing to the fighting men than seeing the unburied dead around them. This became a serious issue during the winter of 1916 around Beaumont Hamel and soldiers returning home to Britain, injured or on leave, were complaining about the situation.
Initially it was thought that each Division should be responsible for the burial of their own men but as this would entail soldiers burying friends, brothers and cousins, which would be deeply distressing and might cause problems when a Division suffered heavy casualties and was then withdrawn from the front line, it was decided that separate burial parties would be detailed with the task.
At Tower Hamlets Lieutenant H. Knee was in charge of the detail who buried the 36 men who died during the winter. Orders had been received over the procedure to follow which included taking any personal items such as pay books, letters and watches from the soldiers and carefully storing them in small white bags which were to be securely tied and one of the identity tags attached. The other tag remained with the soldier. Lieutenant Knee described it as a ‘gruesome task’.
Once the Armistice came into effect on November 11th and the decision was made to not repatriate the bodies of the fallen, plans were put into place to rebury the casualties. The main priority was identified as the exhumation of approximately 160,000 isolated graves, followed by the concentration of smaller cemeteries into the larger ones we are so familiar with today and finally to locate and identify the estimated half a million ‘missing in action’. Details were decided at a conference on November 18th 1918 and the work began just three days later.
The work was physically demanding, especially when the weather deteriorated with frost eventually calling a halt to the efforts of the retrieval parties. It took 5 or 6 men to retrieve an individual body, transport it to the new cemetery and then rebury the soldier. Later this was increased to 9 men. Other difficulties resulted from the fact that burial spot were inaccurately marked and no graves were actually found at the spot indicated. The burial parties were told to look for rifles or a simple stake placed in the ground to mark a burial or discolouration in the grass or earth.
Volunteers were recruited from the different Divisions and were paid an extra 2 shillings and 6 pence a day. The Canadians offered to clear the Albert and Courcelette areas as well as Vimy Ridge, the Australians took responsibility for Pozieres and Villers Bretonneux while the British initially searched the Aisne and Marne areas for the dead of 1914 before the French took over.
In 1921 at Tower Hamlets a soldiers was found but the burial party was unable to identify him despite a careful search which involved ‘boots scraped and a coloured silk handkerchief examined’. The body was taken to the Hooge Crater Cemetery and interred under the direction of the Registration Officer.
By October 8th 1921 all military personnel involved in the exhumations had been demobilised and returned home. Bodies of servicemen have continued to be found, usually by the French and Belgian farmers cultivating the area, up until this year. In July 2016 Lance Corporal John Morrison of the 1st Battalion Black Watch was re-interred with full military honours at Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy near Arras. He had been killed, aged 29, while trying to assist a wounded officer on 25th January 1915. His identify was confirmed from a service number engraved on a spoon found with him and a DNA test of potential family members.
It is quite likely that the remains of other casualties of the Great War will continue to be retrieved from fields in France and Belgium. Sadly some will never be identified or even found and will be commemorated solely as a name on a memorial.